The Fire Service's computing environment is based almost totally around Compaq thin clients with Metaframe on the Compaq servers running on Microsoft Windows NT4. The Citrix environment has been in place for five years. Hogan and the IT team are happy with that arrangement, although the time is fast approaching when the service will need to consolidate its scattered server environment, particularly as the computer offerings continue to grow. Hogan says there are servers in each fire region, as well as the Wellington servers that support the JD Edwards environment and other applications. Support in the regions is outsourced.
New applications — all web-based — include Firs, which records all fire incident statistics. Another application, Neams, is used for non-emergency information. Hogan says connectivity can be an issue at times. Some of the 457 fire stations are in really out of the way places where even making a phone connection can be an issue. Volunteer fire services managers use PCs to dial in to a Citrix server for their information. At present, because of the technical challenges, this portal is read-only. Users can enter whatever view they want but all the financial information is processed centrally. “We are looking at letting people enter their own journals and all that," says Hogan.
In order to avoid the usual storm of paperwork, the service has introduced a purchase card programme to handle high-volume, low-value transactions. Further automation is being investigated — the service is taking part in the government e-procurement trial and is also investigating electronic purchasing via a JD Edwards module. “We are looking at what each does and trying to figure out the best way to do it,” says Hogan. “At the moment you raise a work order for, say, a B service on a vehicle that has done 10,000km. The idea is that the work record number should go on to the purchase order so you can relate it back to whatever. We want to make sure the process is integrated, whichever way we do it. Currently the service is just looking at what government e-procurement offers compared to the JD Edwards module and considering whether we do it half and half or whether we just go either way.”
Hogan says the service is currently doing a return on investment analysis on what has been installed so far. It’s not complete yet, but she believes the biggest benefit so far — as explained by the people out in the regions — is that the new portal is saving them time. Instead of hanging around for days waiting for a report to be designed in Wellington and then sent to them, they can now do what they want to do immediately. “The fact that they can get it right away and present it at a meeting or whatever kind of brings this whole group of people into the loop,” she says. “In some ways that can be a bad thing but I think in most ways it is good because everyone has access to the same information. We now have more integrity because everything is coming from the same source.”
Hogan is unable to comment on whether the changes will result in a need for fewer staff over time. It’s simply too early to say. In fact, setting up the new system inevitably resulted in an increased workload for some people. One new role has been established — that of systems accountant.